(Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Tuesday chose two veteran U.S. diplomats to be ambassadors to Afghanistan and Pakistan, making the nominations at a delicate time for Washington’s relations with both countries.
Obama picked James Cunningham, the No. 2 at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, to be the new ambassador to Afghanistan and Richard Olson as ambassador to Pakistan, the White House said.
Olson’s most recent assignment was a senior economic development post at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Both nominees require Senate confirmation.
The United States has challenging relations with both nations as Obama seeks to withdraw most U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, despite questions on the ability of Afghan forces to maintain security and confront militants.U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized to Pakistan earlier this month for a November NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. That gesture paved for Pakistan to reopen supply-lines to U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan also objects to U.S. drone strikes aimed at militants in its territory.
Before Cunningham’s post in Kabul, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel from 2008 to 2011. From 2005 to 2008, he was U.S. consul general in Hong Kong, and was posted in earlier assignments to the United Nations, Rome and NATO.
Olson served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008 to 2011 and at the U.S. mission to NATO in Brussels, among other assignments.